Director Guillermo del Toro’s luminous The Shape of Water is one of 2017’s most widely-praised pieces of fantasy - and it almost looked entirely different.
In conversation with The Wrap, del Toro admitted that the film was almost made in black and white. While talking about how doing the first round of creature design himself, putting up the money to get the pre-production artwork completed for studio pitches, del Toro said that he “wanted to go to a studio with the design and the idea for the movie, and basically say, “You guys tell me how much you want me to do it for, and I’ll do it for that number. There will be no negotiation.”
What followed was an offer from Fox Searchlight: “Under $20 million for color, under $17 for black and white.” Debating the decision, del Toro opted for color because, frankly, it got him an extra $3 million for a movie that stretched its budget to its limits (the interview also reveals that del Toro eschewed all but the Director’s Guild minimum salary). But it also assuaged some aesthetic doubts the director had about the film.
“On one hand I thought black and white would look luscious, but on the other hand I thought it would look postmodern, like I was being reflective rather than immersed,” del Toro said, explaining his film’s fantastic realism. He later clarifies that the film is “stylistically, in every way, that notch and a half above reality.”
With critic awards galore and a sexy fishman’s butt, The Shape of Water seems like a high in the director’s career even with (or perhaps because of) its scrappy budget. However, this news makes it clear that any movie - especially one that “is six things that shouldn’t go together,” according to its own director - is a single change away from being totally unrecognizable.